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Evaluating public programs with close substitutes: The case of Head Start

We use data from the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS) to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of Head Start, the largest early childhood education program in the United States. Head Start draws roughly a third of its participants from competing preschool programs, many of which receive public funds. We show that accounting for the fiscal impacts of such program substitution pushes estimates of Head Start's benefit-cost ratio well above one under a wide range of assumptions on the structure of the market for preschool services and the dollar value of test score gains. To parse the program's test score impacts relative to home care and competing preschools, we selection-correct test scores in each care environment using excluded interactions between experimental assignments and household characteristics. We find that Head Start generates larger test score gains for children who would not otherwise attend preschool and for children who are less likely to participate in the program. (author abstract)
Resource Type:
Reports & Papers
United States

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